Ambrose Bierce

The Wasp/July 17, 1886

Doubtless the people of Arizona are not experts in Indian warfare. Doubtless they share the commonly unreasoning frontier prejudice against the Army. Doubtless they underestimate the difficulty of catching and killing an Apache and overstate the merit of the means which themselves would employ to that end if they were in the business—which, as a rule, they are not. Doubtless, in short, in Arizona, as elsewhere, men are somewhat overprone to the fault of talking with the mouth. Nevertheless when a rancher’s livestock vanishes from the corral contemporaneously with the arrival of Geronimo, as noted in the society column of the local newspaper, there remains a visible void not easily mistaken for a lowing herd winding slowly over the lea, as aforetime. When the enterprising miner’s temple of Mammon is consuming at the focal point of a multitude of Indian yells, there is no mistaking the character of the phenomenon. When the fleet squatter, attended by his female and young, though commonly a trifle in advance of them, is flapping out of his shack, incited to feats of leg by the agile aborigine brandishing a young axe, the inference is obvious. When the Eastern man-and-brother, strolling thoughtfully outside his reservation, feels the bleak steel slide glibly underneath his scalp, he is conscious of a peculiar chill attesting the mischance. These are matters of homely experience and everyday observation; concerning them the customary coefficient of error may be safely omitted from the calculation. Arizona is today a more distressful country than ever was Ireland in the palmiest days of her most cherished oppression. Life and property are insecure, industrial and commercial development is arrested, population and wealth are flowing out of the country. The will and energies of a nation of fifty millions of Whites are apparently thwarted and paralyzed by a vagrant band of malodorous barbarians ravaging red-handed, with the free and joyant irresponsibility of an evening breeze.

By them, “apparently”: it is by no means certain that the actual obstructionists who for so many weary months have met the national wish and hope with a disheartening negation are not in our own pay. It would not be the first time that an Indian war had been conducted in a dragging, spiritless way to no result but the enriching of dishonest contractors and corrupt officials. The suggestion is one that is disagreeable to make and difficult to justify by specific allegation, but it is none of ours. The conviction that the soldiers are not permitted to fight this thing to a finish is entertained by many Arizonians having the best qualifications and advantages for judging—not the hairy sons of thunder who paralyze the Tenderfoot with extracts from their murder records, making indecent exposure of their courage for gin, but thoughtful, level-headed observers—men of precision. We do not say that they are right; the facts of the situation can be otherwise explained, though with less felicity and naturalness. Possibly the measureless capacity for blundering which has at all times distinguished both the War and Interior Departments in Indian affairs may be still equal to any demand upon it for an explanation; but up to the present date the history of this Apache war is a bald record of facts which jointly and severally suggest a wide conspiracy of official corruption, having its headquarters in Washington.

The advantage of having George Hearst in the Senate is now seen. He first succeeded in making meaningless the Stanford amendment to the River and Harbor Bill, and then in killing it. The amendment instructed the Secretary of War to institute legal proceedings against hydraulic miners who fill our rivers with “slickens.” Hearst first had hydraulic mining defined as mining by water “through nozzles, under pressure and against mountain sides and natural banks.” That certainly would be hydraulic mining, but all hydraulic mining which could seriously injure the rivers is done against artificial banks away from the mountains. Then the Senator went about advising eastern Democrats to vote against the amended amendment, and the interests of agriculture and inland navigation in our state are again at the mercy of the man at the nozzle. We wish the local Democracy joy of their senator—the honest miner of commerce.

The street-car strike has been accompanied with the customary brutal and reasonless violence which appears to be nearly inseparable from the intelligent workingman’s attempt to adjust the matters in dispute between “ capital and labor.” It is not likely that this incident of the “peaceful contest” will double back the natural current of editorial sympathy and admiration. When the intelligent workingman avails himself of apt assassination’s artful aid—as in strikes he commonly does if he dares—the indignation of the press blazes and thunders like the wrath of a rose rebuking the indiscretion of an encroaching violet.

We note with regret the execution in New York of a man who would seem to have been a proper object of “executive clemency.” It is true the proof was clear that he shot and killed his paramour, who had committed no offense, but the prosecution did not attempt to controvert the evidence for the defense, that the fatal shot was intended for her husband. The absence of criminal intent is obvious. An American citizen must find it exceedingly disagreeable to be hanged for a misadventure, particularly while already suffering from a sharp and bitter bereavement.

A singularly disagreeable story comes over the wires from Ohio. Some strolling Turks exhibiting a pack of trained bears to thin houses became embarrassed by the lack of suitable food for their animals, and fearing these might be incited by famine to a breach of the peace entailing danger to human life, they fed them with a living babe belonging to a female member of the troupe. Ohioans, although they have peculiar notions regarding the legitimate use of money in elections, are distinguished throughout the world for their tenderness of heart, and the act roused them to indignation, but the offenders escaped. The merits of raw babe as bear food have certainly not been demonstrated beyond the point of possible doubt, and even in an emergency justifying its use it would be better to have it administered by an officer of the law under statutory prescription and restraint. Some kinds of babe are known to be actually poisonous. It is agreed by all that the most suitable diet for a bear is what, in the forcible diction of the slaughter-house, is coarsely called “guts”—a word for which we regret that the language has no equivalent. Unfitness to carry these to a bear has long been considered in this country the highest, ripest and rarest form of mental incapacity. The supply being everywhere abundant, we are driven to the painful conclusion that this babe fell a sacrifice to Ohio’s general intellectual delinquency; and this view, we are sorry to add, is confirmed by all the leading facts of her recent political history.

A contemporary thinks education is a better way of making good Indians than shooting at them with army rifles. It doesn’t make them quite so good, but it costs a great deal less per Indian.

“On the eve of an election” nearly every editor constantly and shrilly affirms the undoubted success of his candidates. After the voting, if his party has chanced to be licked out of its boots—as will sometimes occur—Mr. Editor lays on a sly smile and, endeavoring to show that he was not a fool by confessing that he was a liar, avers that his confident predictions of success were only a calculated means to the end of inspiring his party to do its best—obvious as it is that no better way could be devised to make it do its worst. This class of chaps is now tasting the bitterness of discomfiture without the customary sweets of consolation to take the taste out of their mouths. The members of their whole tribe, from Maine to California and back again, have for weeks been making one another happy by assurances of liberal success in the British elections—home rule must succeed because it ought to succeed—because God is good and Gladstone grand. They are now denied a hole to crawl out of. They will scarcely have the hardihood to say that their confident prophesying was intended for effect on transatlantic constituencies. We are curious to see what they will say. It looks to us as if they were fairly caught and compelled to “show up” in the unlovely character of false philosophers whose wish is father to their thought, just like that of their most ignorant reader—intellectual impostors whose judgment is the creature and slave of their sympathies and sentiments. We hope it is needless to add that we feel for them nothing but the divinest compassion, and devoutly hope that God may soon remove them from the field of literary strife to another and a better world. They would look well in golden crowns.

In the resurrection of the project for a “speeding track” (race course) in the Golden Gate Park, we seem to discern the maiden hand of Commissioner Austin. It is to be wished that he would let the plan sleep the sleep of the early righteous, underneath the lush vegetation of public forgetfulness. It has no merit at all. The park is not mainly intended for the pleasure of those whose ability to purchase pleasure for themselves is evinced by ownership of fast horses. The drives already dominate the walks. People who go to the park on foot, as the great majority must do if they go at all, feel, even now, an uncomfortable sense of being in the way, and if truly conscientious meekly accept the perils to which they are exposed from hoof and wheel as partial expiation for the temerity of their intrusion. There is an air of horsiness out there which is distinctly disagreeable to the mental noses even of gentlemen who themselves “roide in shayzes.” It is not desirable that this peculiar ammoniacal property of the Garfield statue’s environment be augmented by the presence of “gents” who wear horse-hoof scarf-pins and brandish lady’s-leg walking-sticks—who adorn the outer man with screaming raiment and illuminate the inner with flamboyant and coruscating tipple. If Mr. Austin will forego the happiness of introducing that social element to Granny Nature at the park we are sure the old lady will meet his generosity with an equal concession and glow all the greener for it. If the horse-racers take to the park they will soon demand a speeding track for their women.


Grant Avenue—Dupont Street—does it matter?

By neither hero’s name can it be freed

From taint of shame: no battle-cry will scatter

Soiled doves that still we diligently feed.

“A rose by any other name”—if it offend,

It still will smell, no matter what you dub it.

But change it for a pink and there’s an end.

Or possibly your nose is wrong, my friend,

Or half-asleep. Perhaps you’d better rub it.

I’d say Dupont street—did I not hate quarrels

Is greatly sweeter than our people’s morals.


Of seventeen Chinese convicts whom it is proposed that Governor Stoneman shall pardon on condition that their compatriots shall send them back to China and Collector Hager refuse them return certificates, nine are insane, three consumptive and two heavily afflicted with the burden of years; one is blind, one idiotic and one has a mysterious ailment catalogued as “infirmity.” The number of lunatics seems to us disproportionately, not to say absurdly, great, though we have no disposition to dispute the figures;: the moral instruction supplied at San Quentin has a tendency to unsettle the foundations of reason and remove the landmarks of judgment. At least it was so when the position of Moral Instructor was held by Don Miguel Smith of pious memory. Under the regime of Fulton Berry, who for some months added the duty of Moral Instructor (more accurately, Instructor in Morals) to those of Commissary, there was a notable abatement of dementia among the luckless objects of his ministration, but the ravages of old age were alarming. When on a Sunday morning Berry had finished exhorting his stripy congregation to a better and higher life most of them had so aged under the affliction that their time had expired, and many had several years to their credit on the next conviction. Berry’s system of morality was mightier than the sword.

It is perhaps more important to Collector Hager what he does with his tongue than it is to anybody else, but we venture to point out that an organ which may be profitably used in licking postage-stamps may be employed to very little advantage in making explanations to reporters. The knot which connects Mr. Hager to the public service is not of Gordian intricacy; he can untie it with his tongue if he wants to. But it would be a neater operation to cut it with his pen.

Chief Crowley and the Bulletin are now in active endurance of their annual hostility to the Fourth of July firecracker and its big brother, the Chinese bomb. We look upon their regular midsummer campaign against these perilous devices of an inconsiderate patriotism with toleration and approval; the stand they have taken does them honor, and the persistency with which they take it every year gives promise of eventual success—in taking it. If they are not too sanguine about results they may reasonably hope to have a good long time;: their franchise for persuading patriots not to be fools has many, many years to run. Before it expires the town will have been destroyed by fire some July fourth, and they can have the satisfaction of standing in the ashes and shouting—in the words of the man who was informed that the pig had eaten the grindstone: “I told you so!” We are ourselves only temperately enamored of the prospect of being incinerated to make a national holiday, but learned long ago that the time required for reconciling the differences between patriotism and common-sense might be more profitably employed in preparation for another and a better world. We would rather endure fireworks in this life than in that which is to come.

The example of Justice Ross of the State Supreme Court ought not to be lost upon his associates on that Bench: he has resigned three times. This is commendable zeal in the service of public opinion, though better practical results could be obtained by three Justices resigning once each.


Since Wagner’s royal patron fills a sepulchre at last,

The music of the future is the music of the past.

Ah ! dim the lumination of untended beacon-fires,

And merit is forgotten when its champion expires.

These words of sad significance how often we deplore:

“If you please, this elevator ain’t a-runnin’ any more.”


If the Bellevue Hospital nurses going on strike for more pie, leaving the patients to die of neglect, is not the bottom incident in the abysmal history of industrial absurdity it at least exhausts the possibilities of conception, and the actual nethermost event will appeal vainly to the unsensitized plate in imagination’s powerless camera. We had supposed that this gulf of goblins was delivered of its basic whelp when the resurrectors attached to a medical college struck while till-tapping in a graveyard and picketed the place to dissuade “scabs.”

It is with some alarm that we learn that at a recent anti-Chinese meeting one Shear read a poem of his own composition, which had been rejected by the Fourth of July committee. If there are poems bad enough to have been rejected by a committee which accepted a poem by Fred. Emerson Brooks, the literary censor of this journal feels that he has lived in vain, and we agree with him. We do not, however, share his belief that

It is better to have lived in vain

Than never to have lived at all,

for among the advantages of the latter condition is immunity from Messrs. Brooks and Shear.

Mr. Isaac Murphy, Lucky Baldwin’s jockey, is paid only $12,000 a year and is anxious to secure employment as editor of a weekly newspaper devoted to advancing the future of mankind.

In a letter to the electors of Cleck-Heaton, Mr. John Bright, replying to an opponent, says:

“I must ignore Mr. Anderton’s remarks about my age and mental condition. Mr. Anderton may be a strong Home Ruler, but he is not a gentleman.”

This is neat, simple and appropriate. Many of the writers in our local journals, who have met Mr. Bright’s arguments with asseverations of Mr. Bright’s senile incapacity, will not fail to make a practical application of it to their no-gentlemanly contemporaries.

Among those countries whose citizens the Czar of Russia declares he will no longer decorate, because their governments do not decorate Russian subjects, we have the pain to observe our own native land. His Majesty is wrong about this thing: America has had no intention of slighting his subjects. The reason we have not decorated some of the most deserving of them is that they did not look as if any possible decoration would improve their personal appearance; in their simple and unadorned beauty they have seemed perfect and pleasing. If Russian public opinion thinks differently, and will designate some worthy Muscovite to receive the embellishment, we shall be happy to tint him a delicate sky-blue, streak his stomach with carmine and glorify his ears with royal purple. We will make him as pretty as a red wagon if paint will do it.

President Cleveland has pardoned the notorious “Mate of the Gatherer,” who for some two years has been serving his sentence of six. As the brute was convicted in a United States court Governor Stoneman was powerless to turn him loose, but mercy is a thing of infinite resources, and release comes at last to all deserving rascals who are willing to wait. Exact justice is not of this world, but there is a faint, far hope that it will be done when “the Mate of the Gatherer” is himself gathered to his fathers. Such fellows as he are the pillars and buttresses of religious belief; it is felt that there must be somewhere an Executive superior to considerations of political expediency and inaccessible to the contagion of a Buffalo girl’s amiable disposition and general goodwill toward men.

The “jury-fixers” do not propose that the court shall waste any time considering their case on its merits so long as they can hold its attention to more interesting matters; they have begun their defense by pleading that the laws of nature are in conflict with the constitution of the universe. Their attorneys evidently mean to leave no stone unturned excepting Blackstone.

Dear News Letter, will you have the goodness to explain how a man feels when he is inarticules mortes? And is it catching?


What ! out of the Post and the Post office too!

O General Sammie, pray what will you do!

Too lazy to slaughter, too awkward to carve —

  1. corpo di Baccu! I fear you will starve.


We find the following tempting advertisement in some of the local journals :

“Ladies and gentlemen who wish their carriage, conversation and manners to be such as will attract attention in society should take a few lessons from Mrs.— — —,” etc.

We had supposed that the desire to attract attention in society was, in “ladies” and “gentlemen,” a singularly sluggish sentiment; we were never conscious of it in ourselves. We don’t like to set up an opposition to Mrs. — — — , but we can tell a gentleman how to attract more attention in society by his carriage, conversation and manner than he can by her method. He has only to become a hoodlum and go among people of good breeding, or say he is an English lord and attend the entertainments of our airy stockracy.

Some surgical impostor has persuaded the piano-players of this city and other places that it is advantageous to sever a certain muscle of the third finger, and ghastly anatomical diagrams of the operation are exhibited in the windows of music stores. That it will be advantageous to the public there is, indeed, good reason to hope; for it can hardly make our performers play worse than they now do, and there is a strong probability that it will make them incapable of playing at all.

That distinguished ethnologist, the editor of the Bulletin, has made the startling discovery that Benito Juarez was an “Aztec.” Now, sir, what is Upton?

(Source: Internet Archive, https://archive.org/stream/waspjulydec188617unse#page/n51/mode/2up)